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Talks to avert the year-end fiscal cliff began on a hopeful note at the White House Friday, with the top Democratic and Republican leaders leaving an hour long meeting with President Barack Obama expressing confidence that they can reach a deal and work toward a compromise marrying new revenue with spending cuts in the coming weeks.
To the extent there was a breakthrough, it came with both Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offering up revenue — which has long been the sticking point — although how much and how it will be achieved, remains to be seen. Boehner of Ohio and McConnell of Kentucky have at least in tone moved in Obama’s direction, although the key question of what to do with the top tax rates at the end of the year remains a sticking point.
Perhaps even more significant is that all four leaders — Boehner, McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., —appeared together at the microphones set up outside the West Wing. The rare show of unity reflects the public angst over the issue, and perhaps a post-election opening for bipartisan accomplishment. No one wants to be seen as the one who pushed the country over the cliff and into a possible recession.
Boehner, who has long been the key to reaching any deal, told reporters he proposed a framework for dealing with the cliff that would largely kick major decisions to next year. He offered to tie revenue from a tax reform package to be written next year to spending cuts that would also come from the 113th Congress. The proposal was consistent with the president’s call for a balanced approach, the Ohio Republican said.
“I believe that we can do this and avert this fiscal cliff,” Boehner told reporters outside the White House.
All of the leaders made similar comments that were long on hope but short on the thorny specifics.
“We’re prepared to put revenue on the table as long as we solve the real problem,” McConnell said, pointing to growing entitlement spending.
“I feel confident that a solution may be in sight,” Pelosi said. She added that the leaders hope to reach a deal before Christmas, and said she suggested during the meeting that they lay out benchmarks for the size of the deal and deadlines before then to build public confidence that the fiscal cliff would be averted.
According to a Boehner aide, the speaker suggested that the leaders agree on long-term revenue targets for tax reform and spending targets for entitlement reform, as well as enforcement mechanisms that would kick in if Congress fails to act on either next year.